It has long been known that psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, can be a powerful antidepressant. One recent study even showed it to be at least as effective as the pharmaceutical antidepressant most commonly prescribed by doctors.
A new study may explain why this is. Researchers at Yale University found that just one dose of psilocybin increased the size and amount of nerve cell protrusions known as dendritic spines in the brains of mice.
These protrusions help neurons pass information to one other. Both the number and size of nerve connections increased by approximately 10 percent. This increase took place within 24 hours of the psilocybin dose and persisted for at least one month. These changes occurred in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region in which chronic stress and depression have been found to reduce neural connections.
Alex Kwan, PhD, the senior author of this research team’s published paper, has speculated that these new neural connections may stem from psychological changes brought on by the psilocybin experience.
The study’s authors suspect that the growth of new neural connections may be the key to the efficacy of psilocybin and other rapidly acting antidepressants such as ketamine.